September 10, 2017 / 12:12 PM / a year ago

Syrian army controls entire Damascus-Deir al-Zor highway - Hezbollah media unit

BEIRUT, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Syrian government forces seized a final stretch of highway linking the eastern city of Deir al-Zor to the capital Damascus on Sunday in further advances against Islamic State, a Hezbollah-run media unit reported.

Troops moving in from the west linked up with forces already in Deir al-Zor at the Panorama entrance to the city, bringing the whole road under their control for the first time in years, it said.

The Syrian army and its Iran-backed allies, which include Lebanese Hezbollah, this week broke a three-year siege by the jihadists of a government-held enclave of Deir al-Zor and an adjacent air base.

The rapid government advances, accompanied by Russian air strikes, are squeezing Islamic State in its last major Syria stronghold, as U.S.-backed forces separately oust the jihadists from areas they hold to the east, on the other side of the Euphrates river.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had made further gains against IS a day after announcing an operation to capture northern and eastern parts of Deir al-Zor province.

Syrian state TV broadcast footage of Syrian officers who had been holed up in Deir al-Zor emotionally greeting their superiors after being surrounded by IS since 2014.

The United Nations has estimated that some 93,000 people were living in “extremely difficult” conditions in government-held parts of Deir al-Zor, supplied by air drops to the air base.

Islamic State has lost nearly half of its territory across both Iraq and Syria, but still has 6,000-8,000 fighters left in Syria, the United States-led coalition has said. (Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Keith Weir)

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